Puerto Rico and the Senate
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
The latest constitutional brainstorm on the Left is the idea that the Senate is “Affirmative Action for White People.” That’s the headline over David Leonhardt’s column in Monday’s New York Times. He offers a plan to ameliorate the racial preference that he reckons the current Senate gives to whites. The nub of it is to make Puerto Rico and the Columbia District our 51st and 52nd states.
Go ahead, we say, make our day.
It’s not clear to us that Congress has the power to enact statehood for the District of Columbia absent a constitutional amendment. This is owing to the fact that the parchment requires the district that is the seat of our capital to be governed differently than a state. Whether Congress could override that has never been definitively ruled upon by the pecksniffs who make up the editorial board of the Sun.
Congress, though, clearly does have the power to bring in Puerto Rico as a state; it could do so, in a matter of hours if it wanted, by a majority vote of each house, inked by the president. Yet it’s not entirely clear how this would sit with the people of Puerto Rico, who are already citizens of both their own commonwealth and, since 1917, of America but aren’t forced to pay American income taxes.
We can understand how, in the imagination of the Times, it would be a signal honor for the Puerto Ricans to be asked to offset the affirmative action for white people that, in the Times’s view, defines the United States Senate. It’s not so clear that, in the view of the Puerto Ricans, it would be worth paying for this honor by allowing Uncle Sam’s taxmen to start exacting a share of their hard-earned wages.
In the several referenda held over the years, Puerto Ricans have yet to vote unequivocally in favor of statehood. The closest they came was in 2017, when 97.2% of those who voted favored statehood but only 23% voted in the referendum. What made the vote so dubious was that it was boycotted by the centrist Popular Democratic Party, which prefers the current commonwealth status.
Our own view is that America would be lucky to gain Puerto Rico as a state. We’re less sure it would fit neatly into the ambitions of our noble leftists. Puerto Rico’s population has been, as far as we can tell, conservative socially, strongly Catholic, and also evangelical. Sounds like it could be a hopeful hustings for the GOP, which since the early 20th century has been connected to the statehood movement.
Indeed, the 2016 Republican platform, on which President Trump, among others, stood, states: “We support the right of the United States citizens of Puerto Rico to be admitted to the Union as a fully sovereign state.” The mealy-mouthed Democratic Party platform merely endorses the idea that Puerto Rico should determine its own ultimate political status.
Which brings us back to the Senate. Admitting Puerto Rico to statehood for the purpose of integrating the Senate looks illogical in light of the Senate’s constitutional function. It is not to represent people (that’s the job of the House). It represents the states as incorporated bodies, hence the equal representation of the states in the Senate. No reason not to have Puerto Rico as the 51st state. Why, though, do it for some reason other than acceding to the admirable ambitions of Puerto Rico’s patriotic American citizens?